Still, an engrossing look inside Al Capone’s murderous ranks and a chilling examination of a natural born killer.

Gusfield presents the short, brutal life of “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (1902 –1936), born Vincent Gebardi, a gifted athlete who became notorious as Al Capone’s deadliest lieutenant and putative organizer of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929.

In a parallel narrative, the author charts the dissolute history of Louise Rolfe, an archetypical jazz-baby flapper who, when liquored up behind the wheel, would prove nearly as fatal as her eventual paramour McGurn. Gusfield structures the book as the tale of the young lover’s ill-starred romance, but the story is heavily weighted toward McGurn, whose natural toughness, intelligence and physical grace quickly elevated him in the ranks of the Capone organization, where he earned a reputation as a meticulous planner and devastatingly effective assassin. Gusfield provides a lively, detailed history of gangland Chicago in the 1920s, deftly parsing the intricate chains of betrayal and murder that drove the city’s bootlegging trade and limning the era’s swinging style and heat. The author perhaps overly idealizes McGurn, endlessly praising his boyish good looks, athletic gifts, taciturn implacability and ruthless efficiency—a climactic passage in which McGurn’s dream of playing professional golf decisively collapses is rendered with the gravitas of Greek tragedy. Rolfe, portrayed here as essentially a spoiled, drunken nitwit, never resonates as a compelling character in her own right, making Gusfield’s emphasis on their short-lived and unremarkable romance puzzling and giving his otherwise cleanly propulsive account a somewhat lopsided shape. McGurn would never have stood for such sloppiness.

Still, an engrossing look inside Al Capone’s murderous ranks and a chilling examination of a natural born killer.

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61374-092-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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